Papermate InkJoy Gel Review

I know I’m not alone in doing this, but I have a habit of walking down the pen aisle whenever I go to a big-box store in the hopes that they have something new. I do this knowing that I am setting myself up for disappointment because nothing new or interesting will be found.

I had seen the Papermate InkJoy Gel in (insert name here) big-box retailer many times and my initial thought was pretty much “That pen is going to suck.” My thoughts were based on Papermate including the pen in their InkJoy line of pens and previous bad experience with the other pens in the InkJoy line. A few weeks after the InkJoy Gel started appearing in stores, I started to hear that the pens were actually pretty nice, so I decided to pick up a pack up and give them a shot.

The design of the pen is nothing special. It’s a basic design that has office supply room pen written all over it. The body of the pen is mostly colored rubberized-plastic with a colored transparent clip and plastic portion where the name of the pen is. Like most pens found in big-box stores, the exterior of the pen is colored to match the ink color, though the click-mechanism is silver colored plastic on all the InkJoy Gel pens. The barrel is a straight cylinder except with no taper, except for the nose of the pen where the refill tip extends.

The clip, if you can it a clip, is nothing more than a stiff, rounded piece of plastic that sticks up from the barrel like a design afterthought. There is a noticeable gap between the clip and the barrel which really affects the functionality of the clip.It is near worthless when clipped to the average shirt pocket, and isn’t much better when clipped to a pair of shorts or jeans. There’s no resistance at all either clipping to or removing from the shirt pocket, nor does it make the snapping sound of the clip hitting the barrel that is common when removing clipped pens from pockets. It does prevent the pen from falling to one side of your shirt pocket and it serves as a roller stopper, so I guess it does do the job but it’s still think it’s a poor design.

Here's the gap between the clip and barrel.
Here’s the gap between the clip and barrel.
What makes the InkJoy Gel really shine is the refill. The refill is one of the smoothest and wettest gel refills I have used. I would say the refill feels and behaves more like a rollerball than a typical gel pen, especially the .7mm version. The .7mm lays down a thick line and feels more like a Schmidt P8127 than a .7mm Pilot G2 or Signo 207/307. The .5mm is definitely my favorite and lays down a noticeably thinner line than the .7mm refill. I have not experienced any hard starts, skips, or blobbing with either the .5 or the .7mm version. The best thing about the InkJoy Gel refill is that it is the same size as the Pentel EnerGel refill, which means that it can be used in a number of different pens.

InkJoy Gel on the left, EnerGel on the right.
InkJoy Gel on the left, EnerGel on the right.
The InkJoy Gel is a good pen but leaves a lot to be desired in the looks department. Looks aren’t everything though, and the way the pen writes more than makes up for it’s basic looks. The refill being the same size as the Pentel EnerGel means it can be used in other pens, I’ve got a .5mm Slate (blue black) refill my in Big i Design Ti Arto. Don’t make the mistake I did in ignoring the InkJoy Gel based on who it was made by and by the way it looked, pick up a pack and give them a shot.

Sunderland Mk1 Now Available

Quick update: I know it's been a while since I've had a new post on the site. Between work, a new addition to the family, and life in general, I was starting to feel a little burned out and decided to devote as much free time to family as I could. Things are settling down at home, the kids are getting are ready to go back to preschool and school, and I'm hoping this will give me more time to do some writing. Anywho, on to the reason for the post.

Sunderland Machine Works just announced that their online shop is now open. If you're not familiar, the Sunderland Mk1 is a machined pen with an innovative design that hides the threads for the cap under the grip of the pen and that accepts Pilot G2 and Montblanc refills that launched on Kickstarter last year. From their blog post:

We are proud to introduce the Sunderland Machine Works website and store! Home of the innovative and exceptionally crafted Sunderland mk1 pen.

We have limited stock remaining of the first run mk1 pens – so get one quick while they last! More are currently in production and along with this new run we will be adding some exciting new color choices.

I am a huge fan of the Sunderland Mk1, I have both the black and nickel plated versions and I am interested to see what new colors they are going to introduce. I think the pen would look absolutely stunning in blue or red.

If you missed out on the Kickstarter last year, are wanting to pick up another pen, or if this is your first time hearing about the pen, head over to Sunderland Machine Works' site.

I haven't been compensated in any way for this post. I am simply a happy customer spreading the word.

Karas Pen Co. Render K v2 Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Karas Kustoms/Karas Pen Co. and the Render K is probably my favorite model. As I stated in my review of the original and G2 models of the Render K, I love this pen, so I got excited when I heard about a new v2 version of the Render K. I had planned to do an in-depth review of the new version and then Mike Dudek of The Clicky Post posted this video review that covers all the changes between the old models and the new v2 model. So instead of rehashing everything Mike covered in the video, I’m simply going to share some thoughts on the new Render K v2. One thing I wanted to clarify from the video is that the plug removal tool is not included with a pen purchase. It is available for purchase separately and it is included with the Fountain K or Render K conversion kits. The Render K v2 does come with the aluminum plug installed and with the black spacer for use with Parker style and Schmidt P8126/8127 refills.

I really like the look of the contrast between the body of the pen and the grip section (unless you have a silver/silver or black/black combo), which means you can create some really interesting color combos.

v2 on the left and right, v1 in the middle
The pen feels ever so slightly lighter than the Render K G2. The only way it is readily noticeable is if you were to handle each pen together or in close succession. The balance of the pen hasn’t changed and you can’t tell that the aluminum spacer that Mike talks about in the video is installed.

v1 on the left, v2 on the right
This is probably the most refill friendly pen that Karas makes as it accepts the Pilot G2 size refills, Parker ballpoint style refills, and the Schmidt P8126/8127 refills. The Render K v2 will not accept the Pilot Hi-Tec-C and this was a conscious decision on Karas’ part and I don’t think it hurts the pen in anyway. I checked and the Uniball Signo 207/307 refills will fit, as will Pentel Energel refills, though there was a slight gap between the tip of the Energel and the grip section which may cause some clicking as you write.

The Render K v2 takes a great design and improves upon it, which is how it should be with a v2 of anything. I love the v1 Render K, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I love the v2 Render K as well. If you want to pick up a Render K v2 for yourself or any other Karas pen, head over to their website.

Mobile Blogging with WordPress

The move to WordPress went very smoothly. The only minor hiccup I had was the images still pointed to Squarespace, so I had to download them and upload them to WordPress which took less time than expected thanks to bulk upload and then replace the images in the article. It wasn’t a difficult thing to do, it was just time consuming. The only other semi-major editing I had to do was to change any in-post links to Pens and Planes articles since the URL format changed.1

The main reason for my switch to WordPress was the ability to manage every aspect of the site from my iPhone and iPad, not just publish posts like I was doing with Squarespace. I was able to get the new site for Pens and Planes, as well as Thoughts Aloft up and running entirely from my iPhone and iPad. This would have been impossible with Squarespace. If I need to make any changes to a page, I make the changes to that sheet in Ulysses2, and copy/paste the changes in the WordPress app.

Another reason for the switch was I wanted to be able to take advantage of the WordPress publishing integrations that Workflow has (WordPress Publishing is currently in beta testing3 for Ulysses, which will eliminate my need for the Publishing Workflow below). I knew that the workflows I was previously using would change or be not be needed altogether. I wouldn’t have to convert my markdown to Rich Text, I could export the markdown directly from Ulysses to Workflow to publish or copy the markdown or HTML to the clipboard and paste it in the WordPress app. I have enabled Markdown editing for both sites, and I like that it doesn’t disable HTML editing.4

Switching to WordPress was something I had been considering for a while, and I’m glad I made the switch.

  1. They seemed to link to the appropriate page but I didn’t want to take a chance of them breaking at some point in the future.
  2. I like having an offline copy of everything that’s on the site.
  3. Minus Thoughts Aloft displaying as the name for Pens and Planes, WordPress Publishing has been working flawlessly for me. The developers of Ulysses said an occasional screenshot and talk of the beta is fine.
  4. To make the Pen Hacks page here, I copied the HTML (the captions for the images are encoded in the HTML) from the blog post and pasted it on the Pen Hacks page.

A New Experience

I recently experienced something on a flight that neither the captain, the controller, or myself  had EVER seen happen or even heard of happening. We were supposed to ferry (empty leg with no passengers) from Fulton County Airport, which is in the Atlanta, Georgia area to West Palm Beach, Florida. There was a lot of weather moving through Florida (so basically a normal a day in Florida) at the time and pretty much every airport in Florida that was south of Orlando was ground stopped and we had been advised by ATC that our expected departure clearance time was about four hours away. An expected departure clearance time or EDCT is, as it’s name implies, the time we can expect to depart for our destination and they are assigned anytime there are delay programs in effect at our destination, whether the delay program is for weather, airspace congestion, or some other reason. If you’ve ever experienced a ground delay and heard the crew say that your expected departure time is insert time here and that it could change, the time they gave you is the EDCT time that ATC gave them.

Before I get to what happened, there are some terms I want to briefly talk about so that when I tell the story, it will make more sense.
VFR(Visual Flight Rules) and IFR(Instrument Flight Rules). These are different sets of flight rules that an aircraft can operate under. These are the rules that govern the flight, and do not necessarily reflect the weather on a given flight because an aircraft operating IFR, can fly in visual conditions. When operating VFR, an aircraft must remain out of the clouds and have a certain inflight visibility in order to be legal and VFR aircraft are not necessarily required to talk to ATC. Unless they have requested radar flight following (basically ATC will follow their flight on radar and basically provide the same services they would to an IFR aircraft) VFR aircraft squawk 1200 on their transponder, and if they are receiving flight following they will squawk an assigned code on their transponder just like an IFR aircraft. (IFR aircraft always receive radar services.) When operating IFR, we receive our IFR clearance or flight plan which gives us our route, altitude, squawk code, and initial departure Controller frequency. This is separate from our IFR release, which the tower has to receive before they can clear us to takeoff. (When we receive an EDCT, ATC is basically holding our IFR release which prevents us from departing). When we land at a towered airport, the tower closes our IFR flight plan for us. When we land at an un-towered airport, if the weather is good we can cancel IFR in the air or close our IFR flight plan after we land (If we forget to close our flight plan after landing, search and rescue procedures will be initiated after about 30 minutes). When we choose to cancel IFR in the air, ATC tells us something along the lines of “Squawk VFR, frequency change approved.” This tells us to change our transponder code to 1200 and gives us permission to change to a different frequency.

So, back to what happened. If you remember, we were looking at a four hour delay, so we were sitting inside the FBO (Fixed Based Operator, basically the fancy name for the general aviation terminal) watching TV in the crew lounge. Somebody from the FBO told us that the control tower was on the phone and wanting to talk to us. The controller in the tower said that the ground stop had been lifted temporarily and we had a small window of about 15 minutes to get in the air, if we wanted to try and make it. We told him we would try, so we called the company and filled them in. We started the engines, picked up our IFR clearance, got everything programmed, and taxied to the runway. We contacted the tower and the tower controller cleared us for takeoff. We had climbed to about 300ft, and the tower controller tells us “Squawk VFR, and enter the left traffic pattern, you’re cleared to land runway two-six.” The captain and I look at each other like “Did we hear him correctly?”, so the captain changed our transponder code to 1200 while I banked to the left to enter the left traffic pattern.

We landed without further incident, and once we landed the tower controller apologized and said that about the time we had started rolling down the runway, Atlanta Center called them and told them to not let us go, that West Palm had gone back into the ground stop and that our IFR clearance had been cancelled. The tower controller handed us over to the ground controller to taxi back to the FBO. The ground controller apologized as well, and said “I’ve worked here for 30 years, and that is the FIRST time I have ever seen that.” That was the first time any of us had had a flight plan cancelled by ATC as soon as the plane got into air. It just doesn’t happen. Center advising the tower to hold an airplane, even after issuing a release for the plane is not uncommon. The tower typically will have enough notice to advise the plane before the plane gets to the runway, and the plane will go sit wherever the ground controller tells them to. Once we’re airborne we continue on towards our destination, and if ATC needs to delay us, they’ll slow us down or, put us in a holding pattern (everybody’s favorite), or we’ll divert to our alternate airport if we need to. 

Ultimately, we wound up flying to Miami later that evening with no issues. No, this wasn’t a dramatic event that would make the news (and honestly, most non-normal events that happen during a flight aren’t as dramatic as the media would have you think), but it was still something that neither the controller, the captain, or myself had seen in 55  years of combined experience.

Machine Era Co Stainless Steel Pen Review

If you have read my review of the Machine Era Co Brass Pen, then you know I am a big fan of that pen. It is a well-designed pocket pen that can compete with the Fisher Bullets and Kaweco Sport series of pens. It’s stainless steel sibling is just as good, if not slightly better.

Besides the change in material, the pen itself has received a slight redesign since I reviewed the original brass pen. In the Pen Addict Slack room, I’ve referred to my brass model as the “old” original because the brass pen has received the slight redesign as well and Machine Era calls it the “Original” on their website. The barrel of the pen got slightly thicker in the redesign, so the cap sits flush against the barrel when capped. The cap doesn’t sit flush against the body when it is posted, but neither do the majority of posted caps.

The design of the barrel changed slightly as well, with four larger grooves instead of the three tiny groves that my brass pen has. I’m not sure whether this was a pure aesthetic design decision, or if it was done to help offset any weight that may have been gained by the slightly thicker barrel, but I like the end result. The other design changes aren’t as drastic, the end of the pen is more rounded and the vent holes have been removed from the end of the barrel and from the cap. The stainless steel pen also has “Machine Era USA” printed in one of the grooves, and that’s it for branding on the pen. My brass pen doesn’t have any branding on it, and the picture of the brass version on their site don’t show any branding. Whether they do or not, the branding is so subtle that I don’t think it matters either way.

The steel version of the pen is a little lighter at 1.3oz. than the brass version, which weighs in at 1.6oz. As I said in my review of the brass version, I find the brass version to be ever so slightly top-heavy but not enough to make it uncomfortable to write with. I find the steel version to be better balanced, and haven’t noticed the slight top-heaviness that I found with the brass version.

The product page for both pens says “Ink is delivered by the well-loved Pilot G2 cartridge (included)” “Also fits any standard size Uni-ball cartridge (jetstream, signo)” and this one of the things I love most about the pens. So in addition to the Pilot G2/Juice, you can use the Uni-ball Jetstream, Uni-ball Signo 207 refills. I tried a Pentel Energel refill and it fit as well. This means you should NOT have a problem finding a refill to use.

The price point for the Machine Era pens is another strong point for the pens in comparison to the Fisher Bullets and Kaweco Sports. The brass version is $38 and the steel version is $60, which are both great values. While these prices may seem high in comparison to the Fisher Bullets and plastic Kaweco Sports ($20 and $22.50 on JetPens respectively), when you compare the prices to the metal bodied Kaweco Sports, the value of the Machine Era pens becomes evident. The metal Kaweco Sports range in price from around $70 for an Al Sport to $85 for a Brass Sport. Machine Era had a black anodized aluminum “old” original design which was around the $35-$40 price point, and they are working on an aluminum model for the redesigned version and I would imagine the price point would be the same.

Machine Era has created a great pen at a great price point and if you can’t tell by now, I am a big fan of both the brass and stainless pens. If you are looking for a nice pocket pen, do yourself a favor and seriously consider one of the Machine Era pens.

Mobile Blogging

I guess you could call this an update of sorts to my Mobile blogging made easier post. In that post, I talked about converting Markdown text to Rich Text Format on my iPhone and iPad using Workflow so I could post the RTF text into the Squarespace Blog app, but never went into much detail as why I used the Rich Text Format option for Squarespace. Even though Squarespace has Markdown as a default option for the text editor, it doesn’t present a blank page, but a Markdown block. If I posted the whole post in this markdown block, I couldn’t add images in between paragraphs because the Blog app saw it as one block of text, not individual paragraphs. To get around this, I would have had to add a new markdown block for each paragraph, and felt that would be too time consuming and frustrating on my iPhone and iPad. By using Rich Text Format as the default editor, I get a blank page and can paste an entire post, and still have the Blog app recognize individuals paragraphs, which allows me to add images in between paragraphs.

At that time, I was primarily using Editorial as my writing app on iOS because I could sync it using Dropbox and connect that Dropbox folder to Ulysses on my Mac, so that if I wanted or needed to write on my Mac, everything would stay synced.  Editorial keeps the title of a document separate from the body, so the workflow I used simply copied the markdown text, converted it to RTF, and copied it back to the clipboard, after which I would simply paste the text into the Squarespace Blog app, add the title and any images I wanted, and publish the post.

When I heard that Ulysses was going to be coming to the iPhone, I got excited because I liked using Ulysses on my Mac and now would be able to use it on all my devices. It didn’t take me long to discover, that using Ulysses on my iPhone and iPad might would create a little more hassle when converting to RTF, because if you add a title line to Ulysses, it exports the title line with the rest of the text. I tried deleting the RTF formatted title after I had pasted the text into the Blog app, but that just messed up the formatting of the first paragraph. So instead, I would use Draft’s action extension to import the text to Drafts, delete the title, and then convert it to RTF. Though this method worked, it was more time consuming, and I knew there had to be a better way. So I created this workflow action extension that imports the text to Drafts, and runs this Draft’s action which exports all the text starting at line 3 to Workflow, where it is converted to RTF and copied to the clipboard. (The way I write my posts in Ulysses is line 1 is the title and line 2 is blank, and line 3 is where the post actually starts.) 

My first version of the workflow was formatted differently in Workflow and it worked but generated an error message in Drafts. After creating the current version of the workflow, while trying to figure out why the original version was generating an error, I was pointed to a workflow that that lets you decide how many lines to delete and whether to delete them from the start or end of the imported text. I modified it to do what I needed, and this is the final result. When it runs, it prompts for how many lines you want to delete (which is handy for posts whose title may be longer than one line) and then asks whether to delete from the start or end of the text. It takes two extra taps, but the big benefit of this workflow over the one that imports the text to Drafts, is that this entire workflow is run within Workflow and Drafts isn’t needed.

I know that these workflows and actions may not be of use to many of my readers or those who use a different service to host their blogs, but as I said in my first post, I feel that they are worth sharing.

Flying with Fountain Pens Pt. II

This is a follow up to a post I did when I first started the blog. Even though I know that I can fly and use a fountain pen with no issues, I hadn’t brought a fountain pen to work since starting my new job and there are a couple of reasons why I was hesitant to.

 The first is because I wasn’t sure how well the pen, and mainly the ink would handle the temperature changes I see on a regular basis. The temperature changes I’m talking about are more of a concern during the winter when I could have flights where I could be outside in 14°F temperatures for 15-20+ minutes (dressed warmly of course) while we prep the plane for the flight, then being in the cabin at 70-75°F, to being in warm, humid, muggy 75°F South Florida, all within a span of 2-3 hrs. It’s the going from the really, really cold dry air, to warm dry air, to warm to hot humid air in such a relatively short time frame that concerned me because I didn’t know how the ink itself would fair (and honestly still don’t know how well the ink will handle the really cold to really warm temperature changes because of it being late-winter/early-spring when I flew with my Metropolitan).

The other concern I had was the higher cabin pressure of the plane I fly. Most airliners max pressure differential for the cabin is 8.0-8.5 psi., the plane I flew before had a max cabin pressure of 5.6psi, and the plane I fly now has a max cabin pressure of 9.4psi. I wasn’t sure how well the converter and the ink would handle this higher pressure differential and was concerned I would have more problems with leaks.

I had flights at 43,000ft with a cabin pressure differential of 9.4psi to flights going from 50°F to warm, muggy, and humid 80°F in about 1.5hrs, to flights that were only about 30 minutes with a pressure differential of around 6psi. After six days of flying, with multiple flights per day (both in the back of an airliner and on the plane I fly), I can say that the only issues I had were some very minor nib creep, and even this was no more than what you would expect after an extended writing session, and a couple of hard starts. The hard starts were on the last day when I was flying home and was doing a sudoku puzzle and I was leaving the cap off for a bit and with a half empty converter. These are issues which could happen sitting at a desk, so I almost tempted to say that I had zero issues with flying and using the Metropolitan & CON-50 converter this week.

Other than the times I was writing with it, my pen was stored nib up in my shirt pocket. This is a big key when traveling with fountain pens because it allows any air trapped in the ink chamber to escape through the nib and feed without forcing any ink out, other than maybe a tiny bit from the ink in the feed, which if it does will probably not be any worse than what you see with nib creep. I had no problems writing with the pen during any phase of flight, including climbing and descending, and I still believe that as I explained in the first post, that regulating the pressure inside the pen is a big key reason why I didn’t have any problems.

If you plan on flying with a fountain pen, the best thing you can do to avoid any issues is to keep your pen stored nib up. A lot of articles say to keep the ink chamber full and not to fly with a partially filled ink chamber, but in my experience this isn’t as important as keeping the nib up when not in use. I’m not saying these articles are wrong and I’m right, just that in my experience by regulating the pressure inside the pen by writing with it (even just a scribble or two) during the flight, you are allowing the pressure to equalize between the pen and the cabin and minimizing the risk of ink being forced out of the nib.

These are my thoughts and experiences, and I would love to hear your experiences of flying with fountain pens

Here are a couple of other posts that you may find interesting.

  • Brian Goulet did a video and flew with the pens nib down to see what would happen.
  • Doug Lane of Modern Stationer has a post on his experience.

Sunderland Mk1 Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of metal pens, especially machined pens that accept Pilot G2/Juice refills. I think part of the attraction to machined pens is that, much like with custom pens, there is something cool about having a pen that started out as a solid piece of material that in no way resembled a pen. It is hard for me to see a nicely designed, machined pen and not want to immediately get one. That was the case with the Sunderland Mk1.

While it would be easy to label the Sunderland Mk1 as just another machined pen that takes G2 refills, there are a couple of features that help the Sunderland Mk1 to standout from the competition. The first is that in addition to Pilot G2 refills, the pen also accepts Montblanc rollerball and finerliner refills. While there are many machined pens that take G2 refills, there are only a few that take Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha and most of the Big i Design family of pens accept Montblanc refills. The Prometheus Alpha works only with the Montblanc refills and the Big i Design pens are designed to accept both G2 and Montblanc refills. (Big i Design markets the pens as accepting 30+ refills but they are pretty much all roughly the same size as a G2 refill.)

The Big i Design capped pens use a springy plug insert thingy that the refill pushes against to help hold the refill in place, and it is a so-so design. The pen screws together with no problem when I use a G2 refill, but when I use a Montblanc refill I have to use a lot of force to screw the pen together (almost enough to question if I should be using the refill even though the pen is “designed” for it) and I think this is because the springy plug is having to be compressed so much.  The Sunderland Mk1 doesn’t have this problem because “We designed the mk1 to utilize the screw-in ability of the Montblanc cartridges, while also providing a rigid mount for the Pilot G2 cartridges.  There are no parts to swap or screws to adjust.  Simply remove one cartridge and install the other.  The Montblanc screws in and the Pilot G2 drops in.” (Quoted from the Kickstarter page.) I was initially a little concerned about how secure this rigid mount would be for the G2 refills but both refills fit securely in the pen with no wiggle or play in the tip and the pen screws together with no issues, regardless of the refill used.

The other feature that really helps set the Sunderland Mk1 apart is the thread-on cap. The threads for the cap are hidden behind the grip section of the pen and this gives the pen a really clean look. This also eliminates any problems you may have with the the cap threads being near the grip section. The threads are very secure and I haven’t had any issues with cross threading.

The gap between the tip and the grip section is where the threads for the cap are hidden

The grooves in the grip section provide a nice grip without being uncomfortable. The barrel of the pen tapers towards the back and this is to allow the cap to post securely onto the back of the pen. I don’t normally post my pens but I prefer posting this one. I don’t find it to be top heavy when posted and I think it being slightly lighter than other machined pens helps with this. With the cap posted, the taper of the barrel is a little more noticeable and messes with the clean look of the pen. I wish the cap and taper would meet and give a cleaner, smoother line, but this is a purely an aesthetic complaint. The pen also has less of an industrial look to it in companion to some other machined pens. The overall look of the Sunderland Mk1 reminds me of a Montblanc Meisterstuck or other “fancy” rollerball pen.

I have been very pleased with the Sunderland Mk1. The design of the pen, especially the hidden cap threads, help the pen to standout from the machined pen crowd. If you are looking for a machined pen that takes G2 and/or Montblanc refills, or if you are a person for whom a postable cap is a must have the Sunderland Mk1 may be the pen for you.

Brad at The Pen Addict reviewed a prototype version of the Mk1 and that review can be found here

Failed Path

 “Failed Path-A data path has failed”. That is a very vague message that basically means data isn’t flowing from point A to point B. It doesn’t signify what type of data, the significance of that data, or the source of the failed path. It is a message that if it were to happen to us on our phone, tablet, or computer, we would very likely ignore it because of its vagueness. I had that message on a flight yesterday, and while I looked at it, I didn’t do anything about it. Why you may ask? Because there is no checklist for it, and there is nothing that I or anybody could do during flight to restore the data path, partially because we don’t know what path has failed. The message presented itself in the same place as other advisory messages (sometimes referred to as nuisance messages) like “airspace ahead”, or “inside airspace.” We get those two messages constantly on every flight, so we acknowledge the message button so it will stop flashing at us.

These type of messages are not what we call a CAS message and does not have a checklist associated with it. CAS stands for Crew Alerting System and it is the system that alerts us to malfunctions or failures such as “flap malfunction”, “generator failure”, “battery discharge”, “battery offline”, etc. but the CAS system can also send advisory messages. On the Phenom 300, we get a CAS message when we turn on our ice protection systems, and we expect it.  There is a checklist for every CAS message and they can be as simple as saying “Crew Awareness” (turning on the ice protection is an example of when the checklist would say Crew Awareness) or they can two to three pages long.

Why all this talk about messages? Because as it turned out, the data path that failed was to a computer that controls our multi-function spoilers and our pitch trim. Here is what happened.

I saw the Failed Path message and pretty much wrote it off. At the time we were descending about 2,000FPM (feet per minute) and a couple of minutes after the Failed Path message, I start getting this gut feeling of “something’s not right”. I scan the flight instruments and we’re about nose and level and we’re descending about 600 FPM, but the flight director is still commanding 2,000 but the autopilot servo isn’t responding. Hmm, something is going on. At this point I start scanning the rest of our instruments and I notice yellow Xs on the spoiler and pitch trim indicators, which means their position can’t be determined by the system. The autopilot isn’t pitching the nose down for the descent, so I turn the autopilot off and start hand-flying the airplane and realize that the plane is way out of trim for level flight. Partially out of habit and also to troubleshoot the issue I try to the use the pitch trim switch on the yoke and nothing happens.  After discussing the situation, we decide to treat it as a normal pitch trim fail and turn on the backup pitch trim. When we activate the backup trim system, we are supposed to get a PTRIM NML FAIL CAS message, but we don’t get this CAS message and the yellow Xs don’t go away. What do I do now? I fly the plane, fighting against the nearly full nose down trim the whole time.

How out of trim was the airplane?  If an airplane is trimmed properly, you can fly it with your fingertips, but I was having to use both hands to hold the nose level. I comment that it feels like we are doing a sim training session, because this is the type of malfunction and abnormality we train for in the sim. Adding to this feeling of doing a sim session is the fact we are flying at night, in the clouds and rain, and going to an airport with a low cloud ceiling of about 800 feet and a gusty crosswind. Yeah, I have my hands full at this point.  We shoot the instrument approach and land without incident, though we did get a “SWPS FAULT” CAS message. (This is the stall warning and protection system which is completely unrelated to the pitch trim system except that it is fed information from one of computers that controls the pitch trim) Needless to say we contact the company and as I write this they are in the process of replacing that computer.

We start talking about why the backup pitch trim wouldn’t work, when it uses a different computer and the only conclusion we could come to is that because the system couldn’t determine the position of the trim that the backup computer basically said “I don’t know where the trim is or what it’s doing, so I’m not gonna let you use it”.  This is pure speculation on our part but is the only logical conclusion we can come to. We power the plane back up and the yellow Xs are gone, but the SWPS FAULT CAS message is still there. A system reboot works on airplanes too. I know a lot of people don’t like to hear this, but it is a machine with a lot of components and those components start acting up. Even though the backup system didn’t work, the airplane was still flyable and as I said in my Aircraft Training post, “We practice so this stuff becomes second nature so that if something happens in the real world, we can respond to the situation calmly and efficiently and without over reacting.”